04/18/2012 02:07 pm ET Updated Jun 18, 2012

Bridging CSR and Social Entrepreneurs' Innovative Ideas in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a rich heritage of innovative and successful entrepreneurs. While this trend continues, it is important to note that new breeds of entrepreneurs are also sprouting up here. This is the growing movement of social entrepreneurs who are risk-takers willing to improve social issues and problems currently prevailing in the UAE. They fundamentally believe that there is a solution out there for some of these social issues, and which can not necessarily be understood within the status quo.

Within the UAE, a number of notable actors are paving the way for this inspiring movement. The Hub Dubai, a dynamic network of people with different backgrounds brainstorming innovative social ideas, managed to raise more money than they targeted to get their association started in February. Dubai+Acumen, a non-profit global venture fund that supports entrepreneurial approaches to solving global poverty problems launched a four-part workshop on social entrepreneurship and held a competition that has shortlisted the 21 best social projects out of many willing to compete in the Acumen Fund Social Competition Challenge in March. Also, Hult International Business School in Dubai recently concluded its regionally held competition in the Hult Global Case Challenge in Knowledge Village. This competition, which in three short years has become the world's largest crowd sourcing platform for social ideas, challenges students from around the world to use innovative thinking to create self-sustaining solutions to poverty. The best ideas will be presented to Muhammad Yunus and Bill Clinton on April 26 in New York City. Finally, a number of social innovation consultants such as Baraka Ventures, Alter Ego People or Consult & Coach for a Cause (C3) are extremely active in advancing this new wave. These organizations and the growing network of people working towards social causes from the angle of business ownership marks a new and noteworthy trend.

Having a positive impact on society is the core purpose of a social innovator. They seek answers to the UAE's most critical societal issues be it diabetes, unemployment, lack of housing, education for all, rights of the person, etc.

Social entrepreneurs face the same reality as any other entrepreneur. Their operations have to be profitable to ensure sustainability of their projects and realization of their targeted impact. Thanks to concepts such as C.K. Prahalad's 12 Bottom of The Pyramid Principles and others, these new leaders already have some tools to build their business plans. Furthermore, well-established business schools are now offering a Social Innovation or Social Entrepreneurship modules with increasing credit weights, reflecting the growing interest of socially-minded business thinking. This reality is true not only in Western countries but is also happening in India, Pakistan and Asia generally, with this wave now hitting the UAE and the Gulf at full speed.

How can UAE-based companies help these socially-driven entrepreneurs? Just as social entrepreneurship is expanding, a parallel trend is that of the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR addresses human rights, labor rights, environmental protection as well as anti-corruption acts. CSR is burgeoning in this part of the world and a localized version of what should be the CSR priorities in the UAE according to the cultural aspect of the society is evolving.

Arabia CSR Network is a great example of an association working towards this end while also reflecting universal principles. To be effective, CSR practices need to be aligned with a company's core values and business priorities: It needs to be both strategic and part of the organizational culture.

CSR is a company focused effort to achieve social good through its business. Social Entrepreneurship is a socially focused effort that uses business tools to create sustainable social results. By linking CSR programs with socially innovative ideas, companies can not only find answers to society's most challenging problems, but create sustainable value for all their stakeholders.

Supporting entrepreneurs in their social mission will expand the impact of companies' innovative CSR campaigns.

Today the UAE needs all actors to address the social and environmental needs that have often been overlooked due to the greater emphasis placed on economic activity and growth that the country has experienced over the last two decades in particular. Adding a dose of idealism to the reality of our beloved UAE society can help ensure the longevity of the country's development plans and vision.